By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knew heading into Wednesday there weren’t going to be any major surprises shooting out of the fax machine. The Sooners expected to receive 24 national letters of intent — and did by 5:30 p.m.
What the group will provide this coming season and in the future is the source of uncertainty.
“I think we’re always looking for a good mix of guys on both sides of the football. I felt like we got that,” Stoops said. “I’m really excited to have the number of in-state, great quality players that we got. Excellent players here and the top guys in the state of Oklahoma here with us. I thought we really addressed some of the major needs that we needed.”
The Sooners, who went 10-3 last season and shared the Big 12 Conference title with Kansas State, had clearly defined needs heading into Wednesday.
The first was rebuilding a defensive line that lost three defensive tackles and two defensive ends in their rotation to graduation.
OU added four defensive tackles — junior college transfer Quincy Russell, along with Texas prep standouts Kerrick Huggins, Matthew Romar and Charles Walker.
“I’d probably single out Quincy Russell being that he’s a junior college player, with the size and strength and quickness he has,” Stoops said. “We expect — really all of these guys any more, we expect to make an immediate impact, but obviously Quincy is one of those guys being that he’s older and in a position that we need guys to step up.”
Southmoore defensive end D.J. Ward, who is already attending classes at OU, highlights the trio of defensive ends that also includes the Texas duo of Matt Dimon and Ogbonnia Okoronkow.
“Developing our players up front was a huge area for us to improve, to develop some more playmakers up front,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “… Those guys are very athletic. They have a chance to allow us to put more speed on the field.”
The second area where OU had to reload was in the secondary. The Sooners have to replace three of four starters from last season. There’s also the matter of playing in the pass-heavy Big 12, which makes having as many as seven defensive backs ready to play essential.
The Sooners literally criss-crossed the country to get them. They stayed in state to get Tulsa East Central cornerback Stanvon Taylor and landed cornerback Dakota Austin from Lancaster, Texas.
The Sooners went to Miami to land cornerback Ahmad Thomas. Then jumped out to Fresno, Calif., to secure the signatures of safety Hatari Byrd and cornerback L.J. Moore.
“Really excited about all of them,” Bob Stoops said. “They all have size and they all have range to them on top of ability. Definitely, we’re excited about them. We feel like it’s a really good group.”
OU got the two best linebackers in the state — Norman North’s Jordan Evans and Tulsa Washington’s Dominique Alexander — to come aboard.
The offensive needs started on the offensive line. OU went the junior college route to secure immediate help at both guard and tackle. Trinity Valley (Texas) tackle Josiah St. John will push for immediate playing time. Mammoth guard Dionte Savage (6-foot-5, 345 pounds) will do the game. The only prep offensive linemen the Sooners inked was Houston tackle Christian Daimler.
The highest rated recruits in the class were at two positions where OU doesn’t require instant impact. Cypress, Texas, running back Keith Ford is a five-star recruit with Scout.com and a unanimous top-seven running back with ESPN, Rivals and 247sports.com. However, OU has seniors Damien Williams and Brennan Clay along with Alex Ross and David Smith coming out of redshirt.
It’s the same case with Colleyville, Texas, quarterback Cody Thomas. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. However, Thomas is also one of the best baseball players in the country. Stoops said he’ll get the opportunity to play both sports at OU.
Stoops saw a resemblance to former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford when he watched Thomas.
“Like Sam, it all seems so effortless. The quickness of his release. He’s got a great release and great arm. He’s just so athletic,” Stoops said. “I believe everything Sam picked up — he picks up a golf club and shoots even par. Throw him on a basketball court and he would be one of the top two or three guys picked in this room if he were here with our team. Everything he did, he did well. Cody is like that. Everything he does, he does it well.”
Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell reeled in his usual crop of talented wide receivers, but there were only three. San Antonio Madison’s Dannon Cavil is already enrolled at OU and at 6-foot-5 will provide a big presence on the perimeter. The Sooners also added Manvel, Texas, standout Austin Bennett and K.J. Young from Perris, Calif.
Cavil appears to be the one who could have the quickest impact.
“He immediately adds competition when he walks into the room. He’s almost 6-5 and 205 pounds,” Norvell said. “He’s a big strong kid that can run. He immediately adds competition, which is important because we need that at every position to really be good.”
Punter Jed Barnett was a huge need as well. Tress Way has graduated and the Sooners needed a punter in this class to replace him.
The 24-man group was a consensus top-16 class and the leader among Big 12 schools. Rivals and Scout both placed the Sooners at No. 15. ESPN gave the Sooners the No. 16 ranking. The most impressive ranking was No. 13 with 247Sports.
Stoops didn’t care about the ranking. The production will be judged over the next four years.
“I think it’s very comparable to a lot of the classes we’ve had over the last 13 or 14 years. That’s been good through the last 13 or 14 years,” he said.